The Tahoe Rim Trail

Tahoe Meadows to Spooner Summit (23.1 miles)
By Tim Hauserman
View from Christopher's Loop
View from Christopher's Loop looking south (Photo © Tim Hauserman)

Excerpted from The Tahoe Rim Trail by Tim Hauserman

This section is strenuous, mostly due to the length, but also because of elevation gains. While the trail starts at 8740 feet and ends at about 7140 feet, there are two portions of the trail where you encounter climbs of over 700 feet. In the opposite direction, the climb from Spooner Summit to just below Snow Valley Peak is about 1800 feet.

Best Seasons
It is best to hike this section of the trail between mid-June and late October. The segment between Spooner Summit and Snow Valley Peak may be open as early as mid-May in years with light snowfall. However, the section between Twin Lakes and Snow Valley Peak may hold snow well into July.

There are spectacular vistas of Lake Tahoe along much of this section of trail. Some of these are the most stunning views to be found anywhere along the Tahoe Rim Trail. In particular, the Christopher's Loop (Herlan Peak) spur trail offers especially remarkable vistas. The trail provides views on both sides of this north-south oriented ridge, of Lake Tahoe to the west, and of the Great Basin to the east. While the thin decomposed granite soils along the trail limit wildflower growth, in several locations flowers can be found in abundance. This is especially the case if you take a sidetrip down to Marlette Lake, where the wildflower display is one of the best to be found anywhere. If you are looking for yellow and orange aspen leaves, it is hard to beat the bounty of leaves at Snow Valley, Marlette Lake, and Spooner Lake. Much of this section of trail can be covered on a mountain bike, and, for the experienced rider, affords some of the best mountain biking at Lake Tahoe.

Heads Up!
Very little water is available on this section of trail. Bring some along for Fido. About 0.7 mile beyond the Tahoe Meadows trailhead, you cross Ophir Creek, a beautiful little stream. At around mile 3 you pass two unreliable seasonal springs. At about 9.5 miles from the trailhead you reach the Twin Lakes. These two small lakes may dry up by late in the summer; as they shrink, the water becomes less attractive, and takes on a green hue. Another source for water is Spooner Lake, near Spooner Summit. If you're "thru-hiking" you should know that there are no trailside sources of water on the next 12 miles south of Spooner Summit. Obtain water at Spooner Lake unless you have made prior arrangements for water to be provided to you. You will see Marlette Lake from the trail. If you are thirsty and/or looking for a swim, it maybe a worthwhile detour. From the intersection of the TRT and Hobart Road, it is a 1.75-mile, mostly steep downhill to the lake. About 0.75 mile down, where two gullies converge, there is a usually reliable stream; this may be a good source for water if you are camping at the Marlette Campground, which is about 1 mile from the stream.

Most of the trail is exposed to the sun and wind so bring extra water, extra clothing and lots of sunscreen. Camping is only allowed in two locations: One site, Marlette Peak Campground, is along the TRT near Marlette Peak, about 13 miles south of the Mount Rose trailhead; the second campsite is along North Canyon Road. At a minor saddle, just before you reach Snow Valley Peak take a dirt road 1.2 mile steeply down to North Canyon Road. Turn left and go about 1 mile south down to North Canyon Campground, just east above the road. All you will see is an outhouse, with camping sites behind it out of view from the road. Get water from the stream just to the west of the road. You can also continue on the TRT, past Snow Valley Peak an additional 1.7 miles, to a signed junction with a connector trail, which heads downhill 1.4 miles to the campground.

Tips for Mountain Bikers
For the experienced mountain biker this section of trail is perhaps the best section on the entire Tahoe Rim Trail. It is best to ride from north to south. The Forest Service has ruled that mountain bikers should only use the northernmost 9.2 miles of this section of trail (from Mount Rose Highway to Tunnel Creek Road) on even days of the month so that hikers may experience the trail without bikers on the odd days of the month. After an initial fun ride across the meadow and then along the old Ophir Creek Trail, you turn right and climb to a saddle. Then it is a wonderful, sometimes challenging ride, mostly downhill, for the next 8 miles to Tunnel Creek Road. The trail is sandy and soft in some sections, but in most places it is firm and a real pleasure to ride. Some will feel challenged by portions of the trail; for most, the trouble is well rewarded. At Tunnel Creek Road you can turn right and ride downhill 3 miles to Highway 28 where you can have a shuttle awaiting you. Or you can cross the road and head a short distance to Twin Lakes. The next few miles after Twin Lakes are a challenging steep uphill ride, but well worth the effort since they eventually lead to spectacular views of Marlette Lake and Lake Tahoe. When you reach Hobart Road, turn right. Bikes are not allowed on the rest of this section of the TRT. Hobart Road takes you down to Marlette Lake, where you follow North Canyon Road out to the parking lot at Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park, where fees are required for parking, or for riding through the park.

Getting There

Highway 431 (Mount Rose Highway) to Spooner Summit
The trailhead is located 7.3 miles north on Highway 431 (towards Reno) from the Highway 28 and 431 junction in Incline Village. You will drive past Tahoe Meadows on your right to a parking area and restroom facility on your right. The trail starts from the western edge of the lower parking lot. From Reno, this trailhead is found about 0.75 mile after the highway tops the Mount Rose Summit.

Spooner Summit to Highway 431 (Mount Rose Highway)
From Tahoe City you travel 27 miles east on Highway 28 to reach the junction with Highway 50. Turn left on Highway 50 and drive 0.7 mile to the trailhead on the north (left) side of the road (approximately 14 miles northeast of South Lake Tahoe on Highway 50). There is a small dirt parking area on the north side of the highway, situated across from a larger paved parking lot, which provides access to the southbound TRT. It is important to realize that Spooner Summit is not the same as Spooner Lake. Spooner Lake is about 0.5 mile west of the junction of Highways 50 and 28 on Highway 28. Entrance to the popular Spooner Lake area (with access to The Flume Trail) requires a fee, and is reached by driving 0.6 mile northwest from the junction.

Article © Wilderness Press. All rights reserved.


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